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New book explores the Enlightenment's universal potential
By CSLR | Emory Law | May 24, 2016 10:05:00 AM

Religion, the Enlightenment, and the New Global Order (Columbia University Press), a new book edited by CSLR Senior Fellow J. Judd Owen of Emory and his brother John M. Owen of the University of Virginia, challenges the belief of Enlightenment thinkers that the world couldn’t have universal toleration without universal principles.

In nine original essays, leading scholars ask whether exporting the Enlightenment solution is possible—or even desirable—today. Contributors begin by revisiting the Enlightenment's restructuring of the West, examining its ongoing encounters with Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. While acknowledging the necessity of the Enlightenment emphasis on toleration and peaceful religious coexistence, these scholars nevertheless have grave misgivings about the Enlightenment's spiritually thin secularism. The authors ultimately upend both the claim that the West's experience offers a ready-made template for the world to follow and the belief that the West's achievements are to be ignored, despised, or discarded.

“We have, then, two ways of conceiving of the Enlightenment’s approach to religion,” summarize the editors. “First is the promotion of universal toleration among believers and religious groups of all stripes and the right of religious freedom or freedom of conscience respected by the state. Second is the establishment of the social, moral, and political authority of reason, which transcends particular faiths and societal biases and emotes or privatizes religious faith, thus politically taming religion or, at least, separating it decisively from the political arena. We find a consensus among our authors in support of the first and grave misgivings about the second.”

J. Judd Owen is associate professor of political science at Emory University and John M. Owen is associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia.  Contributors to the book are Jean Bethke Elshtain, William Galston, Sohail Hashmi, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, David Novak, Thomas L. Pangle, Roberto Papini, Abdulaziz Sachedina, and John Witte, Jr.